FDA Approves IQOS
The cigarette alternative marketing is heating up in the US. According to the New York Times, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the sale of IQOS, pronounced EYE-kose, from Phillip Morris. This would be the first “heat not burn” tobacco device available in the United States.
The IQOS has proven to be very popular in Japan, where it faces no competition due to an e-cigarette ban, but it remains to be seen how it is able to compete in a competitive vaping market. If groundless concerns about the sweet flavors preferred by adult vapers, Juul mint is the top flavor among minors, then the IQOS will be in a strong strategic position. It will be hard for even the popular Juul to compete head to head if the only ejuices at their disposal are also tobacco flavored.
In total, the IQOS is available in 44 countries. Submitted to the FDA for approval in 2016, it was assumed that the IQOS would be a slam dunk for approval. But concerns about what has been framed as teen vaping epidemic slowed the process. Another major change was the Marlboro makers parent company Altria purchased a 35 percent stake in vape pod giant Juul.
Phillip Morris had hoped to be able to market the IQOS as being less harmful than cigarettes, but the status of this medical claim is still pending. But opening up the US market is still a huge victory for the tobacco giant.
The IQOS works differently than e-cigarettes, which vaporize a suspension of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin with added nicotine. As described by Phillip Morris, IQOS instead heats actual tobacco to a point where vapor is released but combustion does not occur. This is up to 350 degrees Celsius. This is significantly less than the 600°C plus temperatures that occur in a combustible cigarette.
The key to this process are specially designed tobacco cartridges known as HEETS or HeatSticks. The cartridge includes a plug of tobacco, a polymer filter, a cellulose acetate mouthpiece filter and outer end papers to replicate the smoking experience.
The HeatStick is then inserted into the holder, which uses an electronically controlled heating blade to generate the nicotine vapor. The HeatStick is heated for six minutes or 14 puffs. After this time elapses, the small battery requires recharging, although there is an integrated IQOS that only requires charging after ten consecutive uses.
As far as appearance, the actual IQOS device resembles a vape pen with a cigarette butt inserted where the mouthpiece would normally be. The IQOS pocket charger is lozenge shaped and resembles a cigarette case.
IQOS and the Vaping Market
According to Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog, the FDA decision is a “big win” and by 2025 the projected sales are $4.5 billion. What remains to be seen is if IQOS sales will cannibalize Juul sales. Wall Street certainly appreciated the approval. Last week, Altria stocks tumbled after Juul sales had stagnated. Their stock price tumbled from $54.71 to $51.41 on April 24th. As of the writing of this article, their shares are back up to $54.33.
Altria is positioning themselves for market dominance and hope to take advantage of regulatory headwinds. Currently, the biggest challenge Juul faces from a technological standpoint are the innovative refillable vape pod systems. These devices are also optimized for nicotine salts but offer you the freedom to pick from thousands flavors.
IQOS and Juul Challengers
Refillable vape pods also work with lower nicotine freebase ejuices, the classic style of e-juice that dominated until recently. We reviewed the top ten Juul alternatives to rank the best refillable, also known as open, vape pod systems.
E-Cig Laws Would Eliminate Big Tobacco's Rivals
The easiest way to defang the threat posed by smaller ejuice makers and rival device manufacturers would be to ban flavors. This way, Juul’s limited selection of ejuices would no longer be detrimental. Predictably, Altria is in favor of an e-cig flavor ban. The easiest way to win the war for consumers is to eliminate the competition with a stroke of the pen.
Few of the small ejuice manufacturers have the financial wherewithal to survive having their entire business model decimated by an ill-advised flavor ban. One of the greatest misconceptions about the vaping industry is that sweet and fruit flavored ejuices were designed to hook kids. The science simply does not back up this “fruit flavor fallacy”. It is one of several zombie vaping myths that refuse to die.
The fact is that Juul mint is the top flavor for minors, and the Juul device is greatly preferred by teenagers. Most of the colorfully packaged flavors that are vilified in the media are for the traditional mods and e-cigs used by adults. Retro ejuice packaging targets adults, although the wisdom of making ejuice packaging that resembles an edible food package and trade dress concerns are certainly debatable.
Will Washington Act?
The outmoded SAFE Kids act and the extremely punitive Reversing Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act are two other challenges that confront the e-cig industry. Interestingly, both would do much more to harm Juul’s competitors than Juul. Senator McConnell plans wants to raise the legal age for purchasing cigarettes and e-cigarettes to 21.
On paper, this makes sense. Most underage vapers get their devices through social contacts, and a number of high schoolers are of legal age to purchase vaping devices. The primary argument against this act is the 26th Amendment. Is it fair that someone can serve for the nation and not purchase cigarettes. He anticipated this complaint and there might be an exception for active duty military.
Strict E-Cig Laws Punish Marginalized Groups
More than the vaping industry’s future is at stake. Strict e-cig laws punish marginalized groups. The African American, LGBTQ plus, and rural populations are disproportionately impacted when access to smoking alternatives is impeded and even denied.
This is how you end up with a situation like the San Francisco e-cig ban. The city’s humane harm reduction are legendary. Addicts are provided needle exchanges, safe injection sites and extensive medical benefits. Yet this same compassion is not extended to smokers, including the disproportionately high number that identify as LGBTQ+.
Vape Pod Ban
The FDA is a bit more science based. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb freely concedes that nicotine products exist on a continuum of harm, and that it would probably be beneficial if all smokers switched to vaping.
He also identified Juul as being the product preferred by today’s teenagers, rather than fixating on packaging that appeals to someone who was a teenager in the Reagan-era and doesn’t realize that youth preferences have changed. This is why Gottlieb is on record saying that the FDA is considering a Juul and vape pod ban. Specifically, closed vape pods like the Juul and Vuse Alto. We compared these two vape pod heavyweights in a comparison test, Juul vs. Vuse Alto.
It is impossible to understand the vaping market without having a firm grasp of the Juul device and nic salts. We recommend checking out our feature, The Truth and Technology Behind Juul and Nic Salts Revealed, for an in depth look at this vaping game changer. A complete guide into nicotine salts can be found in our deep-dive: What is Salt Nic?
An interesting side note, the UK promotes vaping as an alternative to smoking and has far fewer restrictions. With one exception. They cap the nicotine level at 2 percent. A Juul or Vuse Alto have a nicotine level of 5 percent. And the teen vaping rate is much lower in the UK. Comparing vaping in the UK, Australia and US provides interesting insights into what is really the catalyst of the teen vaping epidemic.
Future of IQOS
Will IQOS prove to be as big of a game changer? They will have an almost open playing field if flavors are banned and the independent vaping industry is destroyed. If the only flavors IQOS has to compete with are tobacco, then it will probably be a smash hit.